A SHOT IN THE ARM – REVIVAL OF PAKISTAN TOURISM:
The United Nations World Tourism Organization held a two-day Workshop on Pakistan tourism revival under the theme: Truly Paradise – Pakistan; initiated by the present MD (PTDC)
Mr. Chaudhry Abdul Ghafoor Khan with invited guests of honor Mr. George Drakapoulos (President & CEO) and
Harry Hwang (Regional Deputy Director for Asia-Pacific); moderated by Mr Aftab Rana (Founder: Sustainable Tourism Foundation of Pakistan) and attended by delegates from government and private sector.
In a presentation by Harry Hwang:1.322 million people travel abroad (7 percent growth of international tourist arrival).
The Industry created 10% of global GDP to the world’s economies and 1 in 11 jobs.
Asia accounts for 30 percent of the world tourism receipts, led by Thailand as top earner followed by China.
Destination Pakistan ironically stands at 124 out of 136 countries.
“Tourism has become a passport to prosperity, a driver of peace, and a transformative force for improving
millions of lives.” Taleb Rifai (past UNWTO CEO) http://media.unwto.org/content/unwto-news-69
On the borders of China, Afghanistan, Iran, India;
Pakistan has been a natural gateway to Asia since thousands of years. A part of the Northern area (Gilgit), which had remained, not only the main staging post along the Silk Road into China and Central Asia, but the ardent terrain served a sacred path for Chinese pilgrims who trot the highlands seeking divine pleasure at Holy Buddhist sites that dot along and nearby the present Karakoram Highway. Takhat-e-Bahi and Taxila as the main centers of Buddhism, it was handed down from here, reaching afar to India and Far-east.
Today, these mountainous areas sprinkled with waterfalls, lakes in the lap of the world’s largest mountain systems:
The Himalaya, the Kara-koram and the Hindukush, which boasts some of the world’s highest peaks soaring over 8,000 meters.
K2 (8,611 meters) is the world’s 2nd highest mountain, surrounded by literally hundreds of peaks rising over 7000 and 6000 meters, with an air of mystery of the origin of mountain tribe.
Down South and in the central plains, more than 7000 years old Ancient Civilization thrived along the Indus River at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa.
At a time span of 3c BC to 10c AD, the rich soil attracted un-invited invaders like Alexander of Macedonia, the Huns (from Central Asia) and Mahmud of Ghazni who mercilessly carried out mass killings and destruction of sites, respectively. The glory of the Gandhara kingdom burnt to the ground, now remain to be seen at the sites in a state of ruins.
Gandhara Civilization developed finery in art, introduced learning institutes and hospitals for health care.
It was here that the first environmental-friendly concept of planting the trees along the road side was introduced b King Asoka of the Chandra Gupta Dynasty.
A young visionary, Mohammad bin Qasim the great invader, introduced Islam and Multan and Uchchh Sharif became centers of learning and Sufism.
The semi-desert area shouldering Cholistan and Tharparkar, some with pockets of large sand dunes are renowned of its colorful creation of fabric and design works. These fascinating places are dotted with exquisitely designed Mausoleums of Sufi saints and the Nawabs (self-claimed rulers),
many were built, inspired with architecture style of Iran and Central Asia, using blue tile and octagonal structures.
The Moghul dynasty and the British canon graced the central and south areas of the land with some of the most imposing buildings,
including the magnificent Badshahi Masjid, the awesome Lahore Fort, the romancing arcades of the Shalimar Gardens of Love,
the Grand masjid of Thatta, and the Victorian and medieval British monuments like the Lahore high Court, the Lahore Museum, Kim’s Gun and many splendid buildings in the commercial hub on the coastal belt of the land:
Karachi (Sind), which has a stretch of 1,046 kilometers
coastline to the west, past Gwadar (soon to become a world-class Port city of the country), towards Quetta (Balochistan); the mineral –rich land with huge reserves of natural gas.
With all the aforesaid natural and man-made treasures, Pakistan is not on the travel plan of globe trotters, adventure travelers, nature lovers, culture and leisure tourists.
Tourism in Pakistan become a primary victim since 9/11 and thereafter, attack on Afghanistan on the whim of “war on terror” and also impacted by internal political conflict, as well as various structural, infrastructure issues. The nation bestowed with mind-blowing landscape, cultural variation and history dating back to ancient civilization, with all the right travel products for a traveler, Pakistan’s tourism, by itself, has been unable to build
peace and there seems to be many hurdles to revival of tourism due to degenerating local and global agenda.
I have formulated the following Wish List if this nation, with a very few caring hands in the Industry want to develop a strategies to see tourism recovery, which requires immediate action and implementation and remove deterrent from within.
First a few setbacks, on a broad spectrum, as to what are the real causes hampering the revival of tourism in Pakistan:
1) There is no Federal Ministry of Tourism
2) There is no single National Tourism Board (Tourism authorities in different provinces have failed to put an action plan for implementation)
3) Ease of visa. Presently difficult, time consuming process and expensive visa fee (about 150 Euros).
4) Inability by authority to control and stop ugly, eye-sore hotels, restaurants, particularly along scenic tourist spots like the rivers and lakes.
This can be achieved by an independent office under directive of UNWTO be set up with the sole authority to pass structure and
construction plan of hotels and restaurants at scenic places.
5) Lack of sense of urgency and inter-departmental coordination.
6) Inability to take up study on the role models of destinations that had confronted a clampdown in tourism and how it revived.
7) Inability to see the silver linings. The short-haul Asian markets, which can be fairly easy to tap with price-driven tactical campaigns and participation
at regional travel events like PATA Travel Mart (Asia-Pacific countries), Arabian Travel Market (Dubai), ITB-Asia (Singapore).
8) To accept the irony of the fact that western countries do not accept Pakistan as a travel destination. Travel advisory and Embassies impose restriction
on travel to Pakistan and consumer travel cannot secure personal and health insurance. And therefore, attending huge travel events like WTM London, ITB Berlin will not reap effective marketing to Pakistan tourism revival.
9) No incentive to Low-cost airlines to operate in more Asian destination flying passengers to Pakistan from foreign destinations (such as UAE, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan).
10) Inability to work with Travel Media (unawareness to differentiate travel media and main stream media) and lack of flow of information
via mobile apps.
11) Lack of tourism information on the net and at Pakistan’s Foreign Missions.
12) Problems of insecurity of lives and property while travelling in the country and problems of tourist scams and exploitation.
13) Problems related to congestion and deterioration of tourist sites and lack of development of new sites with future potential.
Recipe for Revival of International Tourism
Dissolution of Federal Ministry of Tourism in 2011 was a clear statement that tourism is not a priority for the government.
Lack of vision and inappropriate allocation of human capital has created problems with the management of various tourism related organizations, which are scattered, lack integration and direction, causing disconnection.
There is an urgent need to establish a national Pakistan Tourism Authority (PTA) to act as a mechanism to define policy and manage tourism in an interconnected manner at the national, regional and international levels so that tourism management is semi-autonomous and suitable.
Once PTA is established, it should undertake the integration of all tourism related work in order to generate maximum benefit,
enhance communication, taking into confidence the Immigration department (for ease of visa) and security forces (solving the problem of visible security), thus encouraging visitors’ confidence.
To guarantee success, the PTA be given a status similar to the Board of Investment to prevent duplication and maintain consistency in encouraging international and domestic investment in tourism. While international tourism is the largest single source of foreign currency earner;
Domestic tourism is a healthy economic activity.
PTA to strictly supervise working efficiency by five Regional Tourist Authorities. Each regional authority shall set up tourist booth at main cities (airports) and tourist spots to provide information to visitors.
Tourism and Hospitality University and schools need to be managed by PTA, seeking support by some of the successful institutions in Switzerland or Austria. All private institutions must be under license by PTA and course syllabus approved by a recognized international institute of Tourism and Hospitality. Tourism and hospitality subject should also comprise in the course syllabus at secondary and high school level.
In the past years, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) has been underplaying its vital role as a catalyst – instead, it was seen as a competitor offering tourist services. The NTO role is to formulate and put into action an aggressive marketing campaign and formulate policies to foster growth of tourism.
Once, PTA is formed, it should focus on:
* Call upon Fam Trips for tour operators. PTB in co-operation with the private sector should hold famtrips during the off season period.
* Organize Road shows (showcasing destination Pakistan Tourism products) in the countries with a short and long term tourist arrival in potential markets (that accept Pakistan a tourist destination) with immediate response from travelers.
*Hold international mega annual events (on precise dates year on year calendar) such as polo matches (inviting international teams), concerts staging native music and international stars invitees (like the Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching, which attracts some 20,000 international visitors over a 3-day concert);
*Develop a marketing strategy in view of alternate marketing by participation in travel events. Most NTO’s like Thailand, Malaysia have been participating in regional events and exploring new
markets like Central Asia.
*PTA should work closely with regional leader association like Pacific asia Travel association (PATA) to offer Pakistan (a PATA Chapter) as the venue to hold thematic Conference and Mart (like the PATA Adventure Travel and Responsible Travel Conference and Mart).
*PTA to hold the annual Pakistan Travel Mart (PTM) and invite quality international buyers from potential markets and international media. The seller to buyer ratio should be 1:1 to insure the investment of Exhibitor reap positive results. Long time established tour operators may be contacted to provide authentic companies as buyers. The PTM 2017, as feedback suggested, lack the strategy of making it an impact as an
*Encourage tourists with an Insurance Plan from the date of entering the country till departure, in particular a tourist visiting from a country that impose
a Travel Advisory on travel restriction to Pakistan.
Restrict the Main Stream Media
A positive PR is urgently needed to control main stream media to improve the image of destination Pakistan. Adopt strict measures
Against bias and fake news or unnecessary propaganda that deter the image of the nation. This can be executed in the manner such as black listing the news “maker” or the channel. Alternatively, incentive via advertising and participation with the particular channel may win support. It is an irony the government as well as private sector is unable to purview the power and significance of Travel related media, including online publications, Social media, Travel blog, which has an entirely a different mindset than the main stream (politically motivated) media reporting.
In the present scenario of disruptive tourism, the private sector has yet to learn marketing using innovative technology on fingertips.
Stimulate Domestic Tourism
*PTB should hold seminars and conduct field trips to tourist attraction;
*A monthly calendar of annual Cultural Events is always a huge pull for travelers. It is necessary to hold the annual events regularly under similar date and venue year on year, so the tour operators include in their itineraries;
*Incentive offers for government/ civil employees, private companies, students, millennials and baby boomers – in taking up short and long holiday breaks, such as:
– Offer Photo Competition Prizes;
– Allow tax deduction from personal income on domestic travel holiday expenses;
– Tax rebate or 3-5 years tax holiday for new companies registered under tourism and hospitality;
*Allow Low Interest Bank Loans to individuals to invest in the Industry and for private sector to make extension, build better infrastructure and upgrade of service quality;
*Hold annual Pakistan Travel Market during low season in provincial capitals on rotation basis allowing the industry sectors to showcase
Its products to consumer travel on one platform;
*Allow free entry ticket (over a certain period of time) to museums, tourist attractions (like the World’s largest Khewra Salt Mine) and archeological sites.
*Heavy Fines to be strictly subjected to every individual traveling in a tourist area throwing garbage.
*Heavy Fines to be imposed to builders of hotels who build hotels and restaurant that assault the beauty of natural surroundings. A Notice be issued to
Refurbish or demolishing orders be issued by PTA.
Sustainable Tourism of Pakistan
Recently established, the Sustainable Tourism Foundation Pakistan (STFP) – a non-profit and non-political organization was established by a group of eminent professionals from the tourism industry as well as environmentalists and have played a commendable role to promote Sustainable Tourism in
Pakistan. The Foundation is working closely with public and private sector stakeholders at national, regional and international level to facilitate and promotion the exchange of knowledge, experiences and ideas on best practices of sustainable tourism. The projects have been mainly aimed at village based tourism development, environmental care and cleaning task of scenic places after the sites visited by mass domestic tourism activities.
Will this ill-fated land find a miracle man putting back Pakistan Tourism a deserving ranking order that can be achieved through dynamic management and conscientious marketing campaign?
It is the people who can make a difference, because every individual person in a population of 200 million is directly or indirectly connected with tourism.
A lot of work is needed to be done to revive Pakistan Tourism. The stake holders in the Industry need to pay attention to take action towards implementation of strategy listed aforesaid. A mere statement repeating in words on the tourism potential and brag about the wonderful variety of tourism product on
national platform will not revive tourism.
Its high time that the stake holders play their role with a sense of responsibility and focus on tactical marketing – the only way to revive international tourism.